My guest this week is Canadian author Sandy Day, who took everybody's advice and tried to go the traditional publishing route with her novels. But she discovered the hard way that it just doesn't pay to listen to conventional wisdom. As soon as she self-published her books, she proved everybody wrong by selling thousands of copies. But it's been a long road for Sandy Day to get to self-publishing success. This is her story.
Every week I interview a member of ALLi to talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.
A few highlights from our interview:
On Waiting to Hear from Traditional Publisher
And I was furious. I just thought, what a waste of time this has all been and that's when I decided I'm going to self-publish again, because at least I can get it out.
On the Writing Process
I think that the NaNoWriMo method works great. I did it last November with a book I'm working on now. And instead of spending the time that I have, it really helped to just sit down and write every day, try to get a certain amount of words written every day, or try to write for a certain amount of time.
Listen to My Interview with Sandy Day
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript of My Interview with Sandy Day
Howard: My guest this week is Canadian author Sandy Day, who took everybody's advice and tried to go the traditional publishing route with her novels. But she discovered the hard way, that it just doesn't pay to listen to conventional wisdom. As soon as she self published her books, she proved everybody wrong by selling thousands of copies. But it's been a long road for Sandy day to get to self publishing success. This is her story.
Sandy: Hi, my name is Sandy Day and I'm a writer and independent publisher. I live just north of Toronto, in Ontario, Canada. I've been writing my whole life, but just recently I've been able to devote myself to it.
Howard: Sandy's path to writing books was a long one. First, she had to manage anxiety, and then launch a business and raise a family.
Sandy: After I finished university, I had a bit of a nervous breakdown and I couldn't go on to do my master's degree in creative writing. So, I got a job in a retail store. One thing led to another. My sister, my father, and I ended up buying the retail store and for the next 17 years, I ran a gift store in the beaches in Toronto. I had a couple of kids during that time, and my life was just busy with children and running a business. I didn't write a word for probably 20 years.
The nervous breakdown I had had do with agoraphobia and anxiety. Eventually, I've overcome those, things but they took me right out of university. I had to finish the last — my last year of university by correspondence and this was back in the 80s when we didn't have email or anything, so at all my papers had to be mailed in and so on, but I managed to graduate. Yeah, once I got into working for myself being my own boss, I was much less nervous because I had control of my fate. I also had a car I didn't have to go on public transportation and that was a real killer for me going out onto public transportation. So, it was years and years before I ever went back onto a bus or a subway.
Howard: She ran a gift store with her father and sister, that specialized in Christmas items. More importantly, she learned marketing that she was able to put to use in her later career as an indie author. But after 911 and other factors, business just kind of dropped off, because she had to find something else to do. Fortunately, the book world awaited.
Sandy: Back in 2004 when we decided to close down our business, it was after 911 and sales had just dropped out after 911. Sales went down, I think that there was a confluence of factors, the rise of eBay and the internet in terms of people being able to online shop.
I don't know if you remember this, but back then it was really popular to go the Martha Stewart route, and everybody was getting rid of all their stuff. So, everybody wants minimal. So are, you know, we were a store full of stuff. People didn't want stuff. People were inheriting stuff from their parents as their parents were dying and their grandparents. They didn't want that stuff. Garage sales were everywhere. So, a lot of things happened that caused our business to start — our sales to drop off and drop off and drop off and we decided to close our business because of that.
And so, then I had to launch into something out. I ended up working for the University of Toronto bookstore for a couple of years as a marketing manager. That was really fun and I learned a lot, that sort of launched me into my writing journey, because across my desk and into our office would come all these books of poetry and first novels. Part of my office's job was to go out to the book sales professors who had written books and wanted to have a launch party on campus. We would organize that and be the bookseller at that. So, I was in this world of literature and publishing. The University of Toronto Press was our parent company. So, I was just surrounded by it. And inside there was this little voice saying,
“I'm a writer” but I wasn’t writing anything. And it was like this tug inside me to will prove it, then, you know, if you're a writer, why don't you write?
Howard: So maybe it was that she was already halfway in the literary world, through her job at the bookstore. Or maybe it was some kind of unknown muse. But writing came easily to Sandy, much to her own surprise.
Sandy: That topic basically chose me my first book was a book called Chatterbox, and it was poetry that I started channeling. It was like this strange thing that happened, where I was really inspired in the mornings and I would write something. The next day when I looked back in my notebook, there be three or four poems, and I think I wrote those they we're just being channeled through me.
And I, I just went with it. I just thought, Okay, this is really cool, whatever's happening here is really cool and I'm going with it. At the same time, my marriage was breaking down. I'd been married for about 25 years, and it was ending. So, a lot of the poetry was about, you know, the loss of all that. And at the same time, I was grieving the death of my father who had died about seven years earlier, but I'd never really analyzed any of that.
All of that. I don't know why it was all coming to a head, and I was just channeling it into poetry. After I finished about 300 poems, I started writing a little story about what was inspiring the poems and I put it all together. So, it was called “Chatterbox” and that was my first book. I had a guy, edit it and we would meet once a week and go over the poems and the prose and I said to him, I don't even want you to edit the poetry. I know it's fine, how it is. And I just want you to edit my prose because it's so terrible. And he came back the next week, and he said, how arrogant he thought I was for saying that the poem didn't need editing. And he said, but I read them, and they don't. And so that was really I don't know where all of this came from was just so it felt really mystical to me.
Howard: Sandy's editor told her, whatever you do, don't self publish this poetry. So, Sandy decided to self publish the poetry anyway and move on to her next project.
Sandy: I just wanted to write another book and even though my background is marketing, I didn't want to spend any time on doing the thing I needed to do to market myself to get this book of poetry published. And I didn't really have any illusions about poetry. So, I decided I would just self publish it and I didn't know it — this was in 2011. I didn't really know anything. Kindle had just come out a couple years earlier. So, I did that and with Create Space, and I'm glad I did because I learned a lot. I use Smashwords and Create Space. And I learned a lot about self publishing. And then I just left it, I didn't market it. I didn't I you know, I sold about 50 copies, and I started writing my next book, and I worked on that for the next six years.
So, Fred's Funeral I started writing the night that great uncle Fred died in 1986. I went home after his funeral, and I wrote a story called “Fred's Funeral”. So, for all those years, up until 2011, I just been writing and rewriting that story just was banging around in my mind all the time. So, I put it together and around. Over the next few years, years from 2011 on, I was putting it together. I had a manuscript about 25,000 words long and I went to a book Expo in Toronto called Inspire. They only did it one year, they had a couple of workshops at it and I had gone to things like that for my job at the bookstore.
So, I knew that these kind of book fairs were really great, really fun. So, I decided to go and I signed up for a couple of seminars. One of the seminars was you got to pitch your manuscript to three agents from different publishers. So I thought, Okay, this is great. I'm gonna you know, pay $115 or whatever it was to sit in front of these three editors and be able to pitch my manuscript because I figured it had a pretty good hook. It was about a World War One soldier who'd come back from war with PTSD, but it wasn't recognized by his family. He ended up in an insane asylum and he lived a long and pitiful life in an insane asylum and that was my great uncle. And I had a box of his letters that came home from France, there were 300 letters, and I transcribed them, so I knew his story inside out and I was trying to write it as a novel
Howard: Well as a novella to be specific, and she was told that novellas sometimes need a supernatural element and that made me think of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and the Ghost of Jacob Marley.
Sandy: So, I went home and I was thinking about Jacob Marley's Ghost and I thought, that's what I could add to this novella that I've already written, is have a character be a ghost. And so, I went into the next seminar to pitch my manuscript to these agents and I already was, in my mind thinking, I'm going to rewrite it. I don't even need to take this seminar. I'm going to rewrite it and pitch it to the fellow who gave the seminar the day before, because his publishing company is a small publishing company and all their publishing is novellas. So, it's like a slam dunk. It'll be no problem. So I went into the pitch and, of course, the feedback from them that, you know, I had a great idea, but that the manuscript wasn't in any kind of form that they could publish or that they would want to pitch and that I needed to do more work on it. So, I'm pretty arrogant. I was saying, oh, yeah, yeah, I know I'm going to rewrite the whole thing. It's going to be a novella.
Howard: Okay, so back to the drawing board. It's going to be a novella and it's going to have a ghost. The character, Fred, she decided, is a ghost at his own funeral. So proud of her work, she sent it back to the publisher, and waited and waited and waited. She waited for 10 months. The answer came in a form letter.
Sandy: And I was furious. I just thought, what a waste of time this has all been and that's when I decided I'm going to self-publish again, because at least I can get it out. And I had learned a lot about self publishing in the couple of years, but I self published Fred's Funeral in 2017, December of 2017, and it sold 1000 copies in its first year. So, I felt vindicated.
Howard: Unlike her poetry book, Sandy did some publicity on her novel and it was very well received but book bloggers and her experience from running a store came in handy when it came to marketing, her book. So, it's been a long road for Sandy Day, but she finally found the formula for self publishing success. Now she's made it her mission to help others find that spark.
Sandy: I started doing that a few years back. The Toronto Writer’s Collective was looking for volunteers to train to be facilitators. So I took the training and the training was in the method the A W A method originated by Pat Schneider, and it was the kind of workshop that I had been giving and my kids schools for years, little workshops, so I thought that I would really like to do this and it was a volunteer job where, you went into shelters and different organizations to put on the writing workshops for people that wouldn't have access to that kind of thing.
That was really fun. I did that for a few years and then I started doing them in my home a few years ago. And that's been really fun, and it helps me stay. I do it for my own selfish reasons, because it helps me write little things. You know, I know that once a month, I'm going to be sitting all day, and writing little pieces that I can move into bigger pieces afterwards and also, if I'm writing a book, I can have the character get in a situation and it adds things to my book to my work in progress. Parts that I can write in those writing workshops and I just love doing it and the people that come back to my writing workshops come month after month because they get a lot out of it too.
It's a really inspiring and supportive atmosphere, to write in.
Howard: Sandy took years to read her books. But the advice she has for other authors is to just force yourself to sit down and write every day.
Sandy: I think that the NaNoWriMo method works great. I did it last November with a book I'm working on now. And instead of spending the time that I have, usually my books take years and years to write because I'm pulling pieces from all different places, it really helped to just sit down and write every day, try to get a certain amount of words written every day, or try to write for a certain amount of time. I aimed for 20 minutes and I managed to write 25,000 words in November. I don't usually write that quickly. So, I end up with a first draft and that would be my advice is write every day and write for a certain amount of time. Just work on a piece and write everyday.